Studying Away . . . and the Power of Discovery

As I ramble from Casablanca to Marrakesh via train at the moment, I have time to pause and reflect upon the the value of study away. I'm in Morocco and Spain for 10 days helping colleagues arrange a new January Term course that explores scientific innovations during the Golden Age of Islam. Of course, one could simply study from campus all of the marvelous scientific innovations occurring as an outgrowth of the work of Arabic scholars and traders beginning in the late 8th century, discoveries in areas as diverse as mathematics, medicine, cartography, and astronomy. But it's more memorable, powerful, and meaningful if those studies occur in the geographic, historical, and cultural contexts in which they occurred. That's why study away is such an important component of a college education.

As I look out the window and watch the Moroccan countryside pass by, I imagine the thoughts of these early scholars and traders as they tried to make sense"”through science"”out of the dizzying world around them. And their scientific discoveries suggest to me that they were keenly interested in knowing "why."

I get asked the why question a lot, too: why is it that Luther and so many other colleges encourage and support so many students to study abroad? And my response inevitably has two parts.

Many colleges work very hard to connect you to a larger world because we know the world needs more globally-minded, liberally-educated individuals. Your college education"”across all majors"”is not entirely complete if you limit your focus. So, I recommend that when you leave for college, make sure you bring your passport with you.

Second, a recent report published by the Institute of International Education entitled, Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st Century Skills & Career Prospects in the United States (Farrugia, C. and Sanger, J., October 2017) highlights the important benefits of studying abroad on the development of skills that contribute to employment and career development. The report clearly illuminates the way in which global competency goals and workforce skills complement each other. Key findings suggest that studying abroad:

  • positively impacts the development of a wide range of 21st century job skills
  • expands career possibilities
  • helps develop skills that contribute to long-term progression on promotion and careers
  • has a high impact on subsequent job offers (especially longer periods of studying abroad)
  • develops teamwork skills (especially with shorter study abroad periods)
  • helps STEM majors gain in skills outside of their majors

For centuries, individuals with big dreams have set off to explore the world and, in the process, have ultimately discovered themselves. And perhaps this answers the "why" question better than anything. Why study away? Because it's something you need, something the world needs, and something your employer will value.